The Nestarec family’s vineyards in the Czech Republic, like the neighbour vineyards of Slobodné in Slovakia, have a traumatic and complex history. Just as recently as the 80s, under communist rule, private businesses weren’t even allowed here.
After the Velvet Revolution, however, the Nestarecs' ‘Zadní’ vineyard was returned to them by the state; a vineyard planted on land that had been in the family long before the Bolsheviks stole it from them in 1948. Milan’s father, who had been working in a German vine nursery, began working this vineyard, and bit by bit planting and buying other vineyard plots in the Moravia region.
Today, Milan runs the show across the family’s 30 hectares. The cellar here, however, isn’t really about winemaking; rather it’s about ideas; philosophies… trains of thought. The old ‘message in a bottle’ metaphor gets splashed around a lot, but when it comes to Milan’s wines, that’s exactly what they are. Eternal contemplation from a time and a place, and ultimately all about energy:
“My theme is energy in wine. It's all about energy. If energy is missing somewhere, it's boring. I must preserve the energy that nature has given me. That's my job. If I lose it somewhere along the way, then I did something wrong.”
People: Milan Nestarec
Place: Moravia, Czech Republic
Varieties: Pinot Blanc, Gewürztraminer, Müller Thurgau, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Chardonnay, Muscat, Cabernet Franc, Pálava (Muller Thurgau x Roter Traminer), Cabernet Sauvignon, Dornfelder, Regent, Pinot Noir, Blaufränkisch, Neuburger and Welschriesling
Farming: Biodynamic with aspects of agroforestry
Did You Know? Their vineyard 'Úlehle' has an old walnut tree in the middle; something that used to be commonplace, but which is now rare due to monoculture becoming more and more common. Milan’s goal is to plant more of these in the future, to encourage biodiversity, and because walnuts are quite simply delicious. He says,
“These magnificent trees are a welcome companion for everybody: the grandmas need something to make cakes with, the grandpas distil it into spirits, and everybody is happy to receive a bit of shade while working there.”
This sole walnut tree is a microcosm for driving change on a greater scale — returning to methods of agroforestry and polyculture; not just in Milan’s vineyards, but across the whole country. He continues,
“We need to return more diversity to our country: this is a big topic for me. It doesn't happen overnight and it needs to be addressed systematically. It's not something I can change on my own — but I can do it on my land and be a role model. I want to plant more trees both in the vineyards, and around the vineyards. This year I planted about 100 trees, and I want to expand this. I want to save old orchards, and I want to have animals. I want to grow food; all of our efforts should go towards the farm. This process will last my whole life, and the journey is really important to me. I need at least 48 hours a day!”
In the vineyard, work is as thoughtful as it is in the cellar. For Milan, there’s simply no one-rule-fits-all, and he’s always trying to figure out a way to ensure his vineyards are at their maximum health. He says,
“We experiment as much as possible: that’s very close to us. Currently, the Nestarec Lab Project is being created. We’re testing things on a small scale, and if they work, we’ll replicate them on a larger scale. This is something that I admire at restaurants which have their own lab. It moves things forward and inspires others. My topic is to make the world a better place. I used to laugh at that — when the world's great people said it. But now, I know that there really is something in it.”
He explains that his vineyards look a little (or very) different to their neighbours. But equally, his vineyards don’t resemble a jungle. He’s seeking an equilibrium.
“I’m not dogmatic. If the companion plants are too powerful in the vineyard and the vines are losing vitality, I will strike. It’s about individuality, common sense and looking around. That's how I think you can spot a good farmer. That’s more important to me than biodynamics as such. Of course, we use treatments, but only if needed (in cases such as drought or hail). It doesn't make sense to use something widely — without observation. I really still think (and it is a heretical idea that I said at our first meeting for Demeter Czechoslovakia) that if the grower is sensitive and receptive, they can farm even without biodynamics. I really don't like how companies use biodynamics today as one of the boxes they can tick off because it's trendy. But maybe I'm wrong and I don’t understand everything yet… I'm just saying how I feel right now.”
Before considering biodynamics, Milan and his father began working organically twelve years ago, in 2009. As he mentions, it’s never been about a label, but rather about using his instinct. It’s about paying a deep attention to the vines, and to nature’s ongoings. He says,